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Restorative Yoga Practice and Its Many Benefits

24 July 2013

In addition to regular (active) yoga poses, restorative yoga has its own unique benefits and is quite useful for establishing an overall well balanced yoga practice. There are a variety of static restorative asanas (poses); each one has its own benefits and energizing qualities. Generally speaking, restorative poses relieve anxiety and stress by transporting students to a space where they can experience a deep state of relaxation. They also stimulate and soothe organs, plus they improve concentration. A restorative yoga practice is commonly recommended for calming and grounding.

With the hectic pace of daily life, it is commonplace for our sympathetic nervous systems to be in overdrive, prompting our bodies to remain in a constant state of heightened alert. Our bodies can’t distinguish the difference between the stresses created from work and actual danger such as the threat of a pit-bull attack. In order to restore it normal composure, our body needs to be able to relax and return to its natural dependence on the parasympathetic nervous system. Restorative yoga asanas support our muscles, bones and connective tissues with props so that they can relax and release built up tension. As a result of this release of tension, our nervous system sends fewer demands to our brain, our mind quiets down and our body leaves everything to the parasympathetic nervous system. When we encourage this to happen through restorative yoga our heart rate is lowered, blood pressure is reduced and our breath slows down.

Restorative poses can be used to target specific areas and each has its own unique benefits. Forward bends will tend to have a particularly calming effect. An example of a restorative forward bend is supported Child’s Pose (Balasana). The easiest way to feel the calming effects of this pose is simply to try it – all you need is a standard yoga bolster or you can use a large pillow. Position the bolster or pillow length-wise on the floor. Then, beginning with a kneeling position, you place the bolster or pillow directly in front of you between your knees, which are set at hip width apart. Lengthen yourself over the bolster and turn your head to one side and rest it on the bolster or pillow. Remain in the pose for 10-15 minutes switching sides midway through. When you come out of the asana, take note the effects it had on your energy level.

Another effective restorative pose, Reclined Bound Angle (Supta Baddha Konasana), opens the front of the body. To prepare for the pose, you’ll need to prop up the bolster on a 4 in. x 6 in. x 9 in. yoga block (set on the 6” height). Position the block about 1/3 down from the top of your bolster, which should create a gentle angle. Sit directly in front of the bolster and slowly lower down to recline, gently arching your back. Place the soles of your feet together and if your knees don’t quite reach the floor, prop them up with blankets or blocks. Some students prefer placing another blanket over their body and/or using an eye pillow to totally relax and fully experience the comfort of the pose. Allow your arms to rest along your sides, palms facing up. This is a pose of surrender, and although you might feel a bit exposed at first, after staying in the pose for just a few minutes you will develop an open and receptive disposition. Hold the pose for 10-15 minutes, then slowly and carefully roll onto your right side and assume a fetal position (if you are pregnant, roll to the left side), and then slowly push yourself up into a comfortable seated position. Again, take note of how this pose has affected your overall energy and your whole body.

Restorative yoga is a good countermeasure to offset the stressful, busy lifestyles that we all lead. Just like you always take time each day to eat and sleep, so you should arrange a 15 minute break to take time to relax with these and other restorative asanas. If you do, you’ll find your muscles will become less tight, your mind calmer and more focused, and the stress and anxiety in your life will be relieved. This is a great compliment to regular (static or dynamic) yoga asana practice.

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